Keeping kids healthy and focused while online learning

Originally aired on KGW-TV – September 7, 2020

It’s going to be a long road ahead for kids and families trying to figure out distance learning.

A parent recently e-mailed KGW asking for some best practices when it comes to making sure kids stay healthy and focused while they’re learning at their computers all day.

Kelly Schneyer, mom to a 13-year-old son, is concerned about all the families that are having to deal with distance learning this year.

“I’m thinking about what about the ergonomics of having a student sit in one place all day long,” said Schneyer.

In the rush to get acquainted with the new process and platforms associated with online learning, she doesn’t want the mental and physical health of students to be forgotten as they move from place to place within a house trying to get comfortable.

Studies show a more comfortable kid, can make for a more productive and focused kid.

Melea Lumsden is a pediatric occupational therapist with Providence. She sees families all day and has been helping families navigate distance learning.

The first tip Lumsden has for parents: Set a schedule. She said ideally, it should be one that starts with something easy for your child to accomplish.

“That fuels your kids’ motivation to stay engaged,” said Lumsden.

Tip two: Have a dedicated workspace.

She said it should have a desk, in a room that’s free of clutter. Lumsden said the idea has to do with the “90-90-90” rule.

“Your hips are at 90 degrees, your elbows are at 90 degrees, and your feet are at 90 degrees,” said Lumsden.

For families that might not have a desk and chair, Lumsden has some ideas that will accomplish the same thing.

“You can use your technology at your counter,” said Lumsden. “Or they can sit on the floor and put their technology on maybe an ottoman or coffee table.” 

In addition, kids can raise their seated height using pillows or they can even sit on sturdy books if necessary.

“We don’t have to go out and buy expensive materials to help our kids be more comfortable,” Lumsden said.

Her third tip is to take breaks.

“For that kindergarten-through-fifth-grade age, we should really be thinking about moving and changing up your workspace about every 20 minutes,” said Lumsden.

Also, don’t forget those eye breaks.

“Maybe open up a window and look out,” suggested Shawna Smith, who teaches online for Oregon Virtual Academy.

Lumsden said for every 20 minutes of screen time, students should be spending 30 seconds to a minute gazing at the horizon or outside.

Smith said for some kids, getting up and walking around while they’re learning also helps them focus.

“Maybe playing with a fidget toy,” she said.

Smith said kids can also doodle or take notes to maintain focus.

Another big thing for parents to remember, she said, is to give yourself a little grace.

“It might take a little time to get the family in the groove of it, and that’s OK,” she said.

When it comes to red flags to look out for, a good idea is to make sure your child doesn’t spend too much time hunched over or craning their neck.

Meantime, Schneyer said she is working to make sure her son is as comfortable as possible when he’s learning online.

“We’re also making a space in his bedroom in the closet that’s just kind of a cozy space,” she said.

Schneyer said she’s already tried calling the state superintendent’s office and hopes there’s a directive to all districts and teachers in regards to maintaining students’ mental and physical comfort.

“I’d like to see a universal directive from the state superintendent’s office about what’s acceptable for students,” she said. “I’ve been seeing online from other states where teachers are like, ‘You cant be in bed, you can’t be here or there. You have to be at a desk or a table.'” 

She said she hopes teachers in Oregon and Washington allow students to set up wherever they are most comfortable and for what their home situation allows. 

To learn more about Oregon Virtual Academy, visit https://orva.k12.com/.

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